Creating a Staff Emergency Succession Plan

While the board is creating their emergency succession plan, similar activities should occur among staff.  Emergency succession plans are critical for smooth running organizations. Part of being a supportive employer is creating a plan for programs to continue even when an employee is absent.  Without this plan, dedicated staff may try to juggle too long because they don’t know what will happen while they are gone. Staff emergency succession plans provide peace of mind for boards, staff, clients, and donors.

By creating an emergency leadership succession plan, staff answer the question how will essential activities continue while a key staff member is absent. Staff acting under these plans are filling in for the staff member and focused on day-to-day activities.

Starting the succession planning dialogue within the organization can be difficult. Some staff may wonder what is the “real” agenda. Use the identified avenues of communication to encourage open dialogue. Begin the discussion by exploring a staff member’s planned or unplanned absence. Did the program continue without a hitch? Was there a scramble for information? Was an important deadline missed? Were important meetings covered?

Knowing that this plan may go into effect with little or no notice or preparation, leaders should focus on creating the simplest plan possible. Explore departments and organization staffing charts.  Match staff that have similar functions, educations, and roles. Are their associate or junior leadership positions that can take on the essential day to day functions of the department? Who will supervise program activities while leadership staff is absent? When an organization is implementing new programs or major modifications, are there duties or adjustments that can be delayed?

Up to date work plans and job descriptions are essential for operation success. The emergency succession plan should also include passwords, contacts, calendars, grant proposals, reports, and other resources the position and department use on a regular basis. Answer the question, if I was walking into the department for the first time and leadership was not there, what would I need?

Although each emergency succession plan is different, there are usually four options: first, role the leadership position into another leadership position and provide administrative/temporary staff assistance; second elevate a more junior staff member and create more check ins and guidance; third, split the roles among a small group of leaders and develop meetings and other group checks to ensure all duties are performed cohesively. Finally utilize a volunteer (board or day-to-day) with similar education or background. This final option is harder because the person stepping in may not be as familiar with organization and department culture and day-to-day activities. Once a plan is created, evaluate it regularly to ensure relevance through agency growth and staff transition.

An emergency succession plan reduces stress and encourages team building. For many organizations the hardest part is getting started. Once it is in place, organizations are ready to develop a comprehensive succession plan.


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